My friend Tara recently asked me about a book that swept through the Christian culture like a Category 4 hurricane back in 2000, “The Prayer of Jabez” by Bruce Wilkinson.
Tara jokingly wondered aloud if maybe her pooh-poohing the book and not jumping on the “pray like Jabez” bandwagon was coming back to bite her in the butt. Maybe her life would be different if she had been a Jabez prayer prayer.
If you’re not familiar with the book, here’s a mini-crash course:
Buried away in the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles is an account of a prayer prayed by some guy named Jabez. He asked God to bless him and “enlarge his territory.”
“Let your hand be with me and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain,” he prayed.
And God granted his request (1 Chronicles 4:10).
That’s the only mention of Jabez in the entire Bible. Just some man asking God to give him more land and to keep him out of harm so he won’t get hurt. Nothing magical or mystical about the request, but God answered it.
Thirty years prior to Wilkinson writing the book, he had stumbled upon this obscure passage of scripture and began praying it word for word every day for the next 30 years.
He believed it was the words of the prayer and the fervent praying of it that revolutionized his life and ministry.
In the Preface to the book, Wilkinson challenges readers to recite Jabez’ prayer for blessing “unwaveringly” for 30 days straight. He promises “you’ll be noticing significant changes in your life, and the prayer will be on its way to becoming a treasured, lifelong habit.”
The book, just 96 pages, went on to top the New York Times Bestseller list, selling nine million copies and spawning a half-dozen or so spin-off books and merchandise, including “Prayer of Jabez” backpacks, Christmas ornaments and mouse pads.
Obviously, praying the prayer worked for Wilkinson, just as it worked for Jabez.
The Internet is filled with testimonials from people who bought the book and prayed the prayer and have also had super-blessed lives. Tara said she has a friend who prayed it and lives an awesome life — attended the best schools, has a fabulous career, storybook marriage, children who excel at everything they attempt.
Not a drop of mediocrity or failure has ever touched this woman’s life.
Well, maybe it has. It just seems like it hasn’t, which caused Tara to wonder if it’s all because the woman jumped on the “Prayer of Jabez” bandwagon when it came through town.
Maybe that’s the reason those of us who judged it to be just another evangelical Christian fad haven’t sold nine million copies of a book or made a Mark Zuckerberg-load of money or sired children who have solved the problem of world hunger.
Tara said if she would’ve known it would work she would’ve done it back in 2000.
She was kidding.
Still, it’s human nature to want a formula, a key, a principle or two that would guarantee God’s blessing — what we define as God’s blessing, that is.
The problem with that? There is no formula. There is no key or principle or even measurable amount of faith that can make God do anything except maybe laugh at our puny attempts at trying to force his hand.
Trust me, I’ve tried. I think we all do. We all want our lives to go smoothly, to feel important, to never be in want physically, materially, emotionally, spiritually.
We don’t want to feel pain. We don’t want to suffer.
We don’t want to trust the God who has ultimate say so in our lives, because he just might not do for us what we want him to do.
However, sometimes he does, and sometimes he does more and better and beyond what we ask of him.
Sometimes he “enlarges our territory” when we ask — sometimes even if, although we know he can, we’re not sure he will. Sometimes even if we don’t ask him to he does it anyway.
Whatever God chooses to do, he does it not because we pray a specific sequence of words but because he knows what we need and he loves to bless his children.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria — I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached via email at email@example.com.